Tilting the Balance, Part 2 (Blog Banter 38)

Ripard Teg’s recent post triggered Part 1 of this Blog Banter 38 response – you can read it here. Part 2, below, is about the second part of the banter.

In his recent “That’s just the way it is” post on Jester’s Trek, blogger Ripard Teg posits that the established EVE player-base has come to accept many of EVE’s design idiosyncrasies, rarely questioning their purpose or benefit. Conversely, he also suggests that new players might not be so forgiving of these “quirks”.

In an interview with Gamasutra, Senior Producer CCP Unifex describes EVE Online’s developers as “relatively hands-off janitors of the virtual world”, underlining that he has only four content developers but “a lot” of programmers and engineers.

Has a culture developed where CCP has started to take player effort for granted – expecting the “social engine” to fulfil tasks that might otherwise be CCP’s responsibility? Or should this culture be embraced as part of “emergent gameplay” with these quirks accepted as the catalyst for interaction?

While part one of this was about the little niggling things that bother you in a subconscious manner, this post will be more about the four big things that drove me from EVE (along with a couple of miscellaneous notes). Yes, it will be a bit of a rant.

Three of the key pain points are directly linkable to Unifex’s statement. For the record, let me state that I think it was for the most part an accurate – and good – thing that Unifex portrays the players as the content. Making scripted content to the nth detail has killed many an MMO and part of EVE’s beauty is the lack of being funneled down a specific corridor. That said, EVE is also famous for leaving things half-done.

First, a bit about me in RL. I’m 42. I have two kids, ages 8 and 6. I have a full-time-and-then-some technology management job at a Fortune 50 company. I’m far from bored. If I push hard, I can clear about three hours a day, 5-6 days a week for gaming. That fact – three hours per day, max – usually less – drives much of the frustration that made me throw in the towel.

Second, a bit about me in EVE. I really am there for three things, in order: 1) Small-gang PVP and the camaraderie that goes with it, 2) The EVE story, and 3) Exploring the far corners of New Eden in pursuit of the story.

With that context in mind, here are the real things that drove me out, and their connection to Unifex’s comments.

The Death of Story

Anyone who has read much of this blog knows that story is what drove me to start it, and drove many of the posts. I’m actually not much of an RPer – more of someone who sees so many mysteries in it that I want to be an instrument of resolving some of them. Last December, Templar One was published, and Arek’Jaalan Site One was officially launched. It was a triumphal moment for story in EVE.

But something was rotten in the state of Denmark (OK, Iceland). Tony Gonzalez, the author of Templar One, was a casualty of the summer layoffs, even before his book was published. CCP Dropbear, the iconic and acclaimed mind that seemed to be driving the story from within CCP (mostly on his own time) had fallen silent for almost a month despite the launch of Site One. My gut check was that the story was going to get jettisoned.

Turns out I was right. Dropbear disappeared for months, and finally has supposedly come back, but as a GM with apparently no story responsibility or deliverables. I’m not aware that anyone outside CCP has heard from him since. CCP Goliath has now taken responsibility in theory, but I have seen nothing whatsoever from him of any story substance. In fact, for the last seven months nothing has happened. Arek’Jalaan, as far as I can tell, is effectively dead. The massive projects so many of us put so much work into have been left to rot, rejected, ignored, or unreviewed.

The story of EVE is now: We have spaceships! Don’t ask us about anything else!

And Unifex trumpets this proudly: they only have four people who work on content. Four! Four people to do missions, plexes, descriptions, etc. for 5000 systems and 300,000+ players. Your missions aren’t going to get less deadly dull and flat any time soon. It’s no wonder there are no live events, despite demand. No one knows, a year later, why Sansha bothered with Incursions. No one knows three years later why Isogen-5 destroys planets, how to make or get more, and how wormholes truly work. No one knows why CS-FTM3 is so crucial, or how it ties to the Sleepers and presumably the DUST Merc implant. No one knows what relationship the Talocan have to the Sleepers, despite it being in place for so long, and being a direct link to DUST514! So not only, as Dropbear would say, “It may not make sense at first” – it’s likely it never will.

Only within the last week has a twitch of potential returned in the form of 514, the new DUST chronicle. It’s good (if highly implausible) – you should read it. And CCP should drive it. Show us what happened in-game. Tell us more.

Now, don’t get me wrong. PVP is my main motivator too, but the story of EVE is so amazing and full of potential that this can only read as, at the moment of its prime, it encountered an abject failure and dereliction of duty. I, and many others, gave out reams of user-driven content and potential story arcs to CCP, and it has been left to rot.

I understand why CCP retreated to core programming after the Jita riots, but some balance would be well-considered. There are some things that require developer content – specifically when you’re talking about the canon of the story. And when you’re handed a plateful of content by your players, take it.

The Emptiness of Exploration

Four developers for content. Do you really think that there will be anything worth finding when you explore? Improved Sleeper implants for DUSTies? Hidden back-routes between systems? Smuggler’s routes? What if we could discover the aftermath of the events in the 514 chronicle in game? There are four developers for content. For everything in EVE. If you don’t like exploration now, you never will.

Some of the commenters on Ripard Teg’s blog touch on the travel distances as well. I mentioned that I have about 3 hours a night to play. This means the distances in EVE are a killer. They take too much time. OK, I understand if you’re a nullsec dweller and have bridges and titans, there is a mechanic. But there is no mechanic in highsec or lowsec. Fine, leave lowsec without a solution as part of the grittiness of lowsec. I’m fine with that. But give us a faster way across highsec. Even if it’s a bit riskier. We all know about Rancer, which cuts the trip from Minmatar space to Jita almost in half. I’d like to see it cut even further. Fine, put a lowsec pirate or FW system or static wormhole or two in the middle to build up the risk, but give us a path. I’ll deal with running a United gatecamp almost any time over a 21-jump trip.

The Agony of Security Status

All that said, this, and the next one below, were the dual stakes in the heart of my EVE subscription. I couldn’t take one day of awesome PVP followed by three days of boring, monotonous ratting to get my sec status back to -2. At roughly 18 hours per week (assuming I spent one day doing something else), and assuming a day to collect passive ISK (more on that below), that meant that I spent 3-4 days of 6, or 50%-70%, of my time doing something other than what I was having fun with. For my 30% time PVPing with my buddies, I was paying the penance in sec status ratting and boring ISK activities with the other 2/3. With four content developers, I guarantee you ratting isn’t going to get better soon.

To make matters worse, this month my old corp dissolved. Not a failcascade of leadership. Not a lack of participation. Not a dislike of their playstyle. They dissolved due to having finally had enough of ratting for sec status. They joined a sovereign nullsec corp instead simply to be done with that one game mechanic.

In the end, the best suggestion I’ve heard was part of Hans Jagerblitzen’s campaign document. In short, it suggests that only podkills and highsec ganks count toward pushing your sec status below -2. Regular PVP ship kills would only push you to -2. This is a workable compromise.

GCC and gate guns are also broken, but I covered that in Part 1.

The Unbearable Boredom of Grinding

Getting ISK to support the PVP habit is the other demon that drove me from EVE. As a newbie just before the launch of Tyrannis, I was happy to learn of PI and Datacores – ways that someone without much time, like me, might be able to make enough ISK to actually play the game without spending all my time doing nothing but focusing on income. I was here to play, not to get a second job.

Many people were excited about the prospect of Player Owned Customs Offices (POCOs). I was most definitely not. In fact, I would call them more properly COCOs – Corporation-owned. If you were a solo PIer, like me, you stood no chance of keeping your POCOs alive yourself. So at best you’d pay a tax, likely an exorbitant tax, and in many cases you would likely be outright prohibited. That hit with Crucible, and was the final in-game nail in the coffin for me.

It hasn’t gotten better for my income streams since then. While Faction War got a huge boost, it was partially at the expense of datacore farmers like myself. Now, granted, I didn’t get a lot of my ISK from datacores – my PI was a far higher percentage. But it was just one more thing to cripple my ability to make EVE fun and focus on why I was there – the PVP.

As I consider coming back, given my time constraints, I can only see a handful of viable ways to make enough ISK to play: wormholes, incursions, or faction war. I don’t have the time for much of anything else, and I wouldn’t be a good fit for sovereign nullsec alliances, who have ISK coming out the ears. I can’t jump to a CTA at the drop of a hat.

So let me propose this “out of the box”. For those of us who pay cash to play, rather than paying ISK for PLEX, what if a cash-paid subscription came with some ISK? What if my $15 per month actually bought me 150 million ISK per month per account (not per character) to buy ships? Not enough to buy much of anything if you fly battleships and capitals and T2 cruisers, but enough to buy a few battlecruisers, or a pile of T1 cruisers, destroyers or T1 frigates to hurl at the wall in a place like RvB, EVE University or Faction War. Yes, I can hear the market balance folks wailing, but let’s be honest – PLEX already provides a massive distortion in this way, and the extra ISK in the market would only drive demand for more ships and modules that would then get blown up.

Sure, I could run missions too. But have I mentioned they are time consuming and dull? Oh, and with only four developers that do content, it’s not likely to change for a while.

The Miscellaneous Leftovers

Finally, there are couple of design items to quickly touch on that I think were too big to be considered “little things” as in Ripard Teg’s blog, but do not rise quite to the level of rant I have with the items above.

First, how broken drone control is. I suspect that it will be a major effort to rewrite, but as a part-time Gallente pilot, it is hardly a fair fight to have drones be your primary weapon system against a Minmatar or Caldari pilot armed with “point and click” weapons. The interface needs a major overhaul to make drone-based systems as user-friendly as turrets and missiles. There is a reason that, while I like the Gallente boats I fly, I almost always choose a Minmatar ship instead.

Finally, there were several suggestions on Ripard’s blog that the profusion of third-party tools was problematic. Quite the contrary, I think it’s a sign of the good side of what CCP Unifex was after in his statement. This, truly, shows the greatness of an empowered user base. Yes, CCP should eventually get around to buying, licensing or mimicking the great 3rd-party capabilities. But how awesome that they empowered the users to fill in the gap. Unfortunately, with all of the things above, no such option is available.

A Last Thought

So … really? I came out of retirement to write a two-post, over 4000-word rant about what I didn’t like about EVE? What the hell am I even around for then? And considering coming back? WTF?

Well, that’s a story for another post. And one that will be quite a bit kinder to our new janitorial overlords.

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9 Responses to Tilting the Balance, Part 2 (Blog Banter 38)

  1. T'amber says:

    o.O welcome to the brotherhood

  2. Mme. Thalys says:

    It may be off topic, but when you linked to that Jita 4-4 chronicle I remembered that I really didn’t understand what was going on there apart from the fact that the protagonist is a former Blood Raider and that is why the other woman shares the CS-FTM3 with her so readily.

    I love the EVE lore a lot myself and I also write fan-fiction relating to it. So I wish I understood “what happened next” in the story. I never had the impression that anything _was_ happening, only that the protagonist was reflecting on the (im)mortality of capsuleers and that it can possibly somehow be overcome.

    Maybe you want to take the time and enlighten me a bit?

    • Rhavas says:

      That’s both a long story and an accurate summation of why it’s so frustrating!

      CCP Dropbear, before his untimely disappearance, spent a great deal of time dropping hints about the storyline that were never clarified or revealed, even years later. He had two favorites: 1) Saying “It may not make sense at first,” and 2) Talking about C3.

      It was clear that whatever the Big Secret of EVE was, it was intimately tied to C3, which is a key component in making the central components of T3 Cruisers, and intimately tied to brain chemistry. It’s also the reason, in theory, why you lose skillpoints when you’re blown up in a T3.

      Unfortunately, the last we hear was this blog and some broad hinting that psychology-oriented projects for Arek’Jaalan might be interesting.

      The rest is silence.

  3. I feel your pain. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is put out by CCP Unifex crowing about only having 4 content developers.

    If it’s any consolation, in the Storyline roundtable at Fanfest 2012, CCP Gnauton passed comment that CCP Dropbear was a meticulous record-keeper and nothing has been left unwritten with regard to undelivered A’J material. That said, I thought I detected a hint of “like I’m ever going to be able to read it all” in his tone, so whether the baton will ever be truly passed is doubtful, but the intent seemed to be there.

    I have since received some placating words from some devs on the storyline front (I’ll get a blogpost out when I can), so perhaps things aren’t as bleak as they seem. I’ve yet to get that far in the CSM summit notes to see if there’s any rays of hope in there either.

    Great post though. As you could probably tell by my BB entry, we’re singing from the same songsheet.

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